If you advertise in the White Pages, beware

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IN YOUR CORNER

If you advertise in the White Pages, beware

Sooner or later the Telkom impersonators will find your number and make a call

Consumer journalist

If you’re a small business or medical practice that has a bold listing in your local phone directory, for which you pay every month as an extra charge on your Telkom phone bill, know this – you are a target.
The con appears to be continuing at an alarming rate – I’m currently receiving three e-mails a day, on average, from small companies, guesthouses and medical practices all over the country.
Sooner or later, if they haven’t already, the Telkom impersonators will find your number in your local Telkom phone directory and make a call to get the company’s e-mail address.
Then follows the e-mail, from a telkomsa.net address, which reads: “Good day, Kindly ensure that the above attachment is completed with current contact information for your company. Should you require adding or correcting any information you may do so on the attachment before sending via fax or email. Completed document to be sent to …”
That attachment is a form with the heading “TELEPHONE DIRECTORY (2018)” and, in smaller print “White Pages Business Entries Pty Ltd”, requiring the usual listing information.Above a large block of very small print on that form, are the prominent words “Free Service: SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to be listed on Google.” If a company doesn’t respond quickly enough, they are phoned to be told they need to do so “urgently”.Of course, most people don’t read all that boring looking small print, assuming they are dealing with Telkom’s white pages directory division (a company by the name of Trudon, in reality) and it’s “all the usual stuff”. 
So they “update” their details, and then comes an invoice to pay a sum of R8,350. And if they don’t pay, they’re “handed over” and then come the relentless “pay up” calls.
So here’s a bit of what’s in that tiny print: “I am aware that White Pages Business Directories is an independent online advertises company who is not affiliated to Telkom or Trudon. 
“I am aware that this is a 12-month contract – total value R8,340 (all written out in words so as not to attract the eye.)
“I am aware that this contract will renew annually unless cancelled in writing and White Pages Business Entries need to send me confirmation from themselves acknowledging my request to cancel in the following years.
“The SEO is only applicable to clients whom make payments within 10 days of invoice.
“Cancellation only within five days of signing ... with a cancellation fee of 45% – R3,753.”
The entire approach is clearly designed to trick recipients into thinking they are merely updating their details in Telkom’s white pages directories, a conclusion which the Advertising Standards Authority came to last year in a case against a Durban-based company calling itself Telecom Directory.
Complaints to my e-mail inbox about Telecom Directory dried up at the end of last year, to be replaced with a growing number about White Pages Business Entries. Both “hand over” those who refuse to pay to “NCR Legal Debt Collections” – among debt collectors.
That registered debt collecting company is owned by Ashwin Dwarika, who also owned Telecom Directories and Directories Services 2 before that, which began operating in 2015 with the same modus operandi as the others.
When I called the number on the White Pages Business Entries form, the woman who answered said neither the owner nor manager were in. She wasn’t authorised to name the owner, she said, and when I asked her in which suburb the company was based, she ended the call.
What to do?
Given that the entire “business proposition” is based on a deliberate attempt to mislead and that the “service” being charged for is at best an obscure website from which the companies will derive no benefit, companies should refuse to make payment, and disengage from the company and its representatives.
As far as I’m aware, legal action has not progressed from the threat stage in any of the cases. 
Council of Debt Collectors

Ashwin Dwarika, registered owner of NCR Legal Collections, which has been contacting companies with demands for payment for the “white pages” listings, recently paid a R10,000 fine to the Council of Debt Collectors for changing his contact details without contacting the council.
“He was located by our investigating team and appeared before a disciplinary hearing,” said the council’s Tekani Mabasa. As the modus operandi of the business, prior to the debt collecting, fell under the scope of the Consumer Protection Act, Mabasa said, the case had been referred to the National Consumer Commission (NCC).
“It would be appreciated if people could send only their complaints about the debt collector to us, and not those about the service provider.
“We will share the information with the NCC.”
There was no law preventing someone from owning both the company selling a product or service, and the debt collecting company to which those who fail to pay are handed over, Mabasa said. Council for Debt Collectors
CONTACT WENDY:
Email:consumer@knowler.co.za
Twitter:@wendyknowler
Facebook:wendyknowlerconsumer
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